Bill's Speeches

ADDRESS TO THE AUSTRALIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCE - THE SHINE DOME, CANBERRA - WEDNESDAY, 28 NOVEMBER 2018

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Good evening everyone, and that's for making time to come and talk about the future.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, and I pay my respects to elders past and present.

I'd like to acknowledge all of the distinguished guests who are here, and including in that list of course are my parliamentary colleagues Senator Carr, Senator Pratt, Member for Calwell, Maria Vamvakinou, Member for Wakefield, Nick Champion and Senator Deborah O'Neill. 
 
I get that there's a national frustration with politics at the moment, and when you sit in Question Time as often as I do I understand why.
 
But we will have an election, the election will mostly likely be in early May of next year.
 
And whilst politics as usual I don't think cuts it with the Australian people, what I endeavour to do, is to fulfil the obligation that elected representatives have to outline a view of the future.

Not just the problems of your opponents, but the positive case for change.

So I've given some speeches about Labor's vision, my vision for the future.

We've spoken about early childhood education, to energy policy, to foreign policy. This nation I believe is hungry for a political discourse which travels beyond the short term and the quick fix, the eight second grab on the television news. 
 
I want to be able to explain to the Australian people at the next election where we see this country in 2030 and beyond, and what are our national priorities. 
Science is central to answering this question of a vision of the future of our nation in 2030. 

For the five years that I've been Leader of the Opposition, I have spoken on a number of occasions about the centrality of science on the national political agenda. 
It was back at the heart of one the first major speeches I gave as Labor leader, way back in February 2014. 

In fact the case I made to be elected leader of Labor included the need to properly fund science and research in Australia.

Science, research and innovation were in my Budget Reply, central to it in 2015.

I've addressed this academy on previous occasions and through the five years of ‘Science Meets Parliament', I’ve appreciated the opportunity to meet so many of you, and so many of the younger scientists and Post Doc researchers.
 
To benefit from your expertise and to help be informed about the design of the best possible policies for the nation.
 
That's a long-winded way of saying that science is not an issue that Kim Carr and I, and my colleagues have discovered six months before the next election.
 
We don't see it as an advertising poster on a bus stop in suburban Australia. 
 
It is at the heart of our vision for Australia's future in the next decade and beyond.
 
Because for me and for Labor, science draws it all together: knowledge, skills, enterprise, people, progress.
 
It is essential to who we are and where we want to go as a nation.
 
It makes us a Commonwealth in spirit, not just in name.
 
Or as the President of your academy, Professor Shine, put it recently and I quote:

science decides whether we determine our future, or are swept along trailing the decisions of other nations.

Whilst, it is a perceptive comment it seems extraordinary that we need to say any of this, in 2018.

 
But we do. And we must.

It seems wrong that the purpose of science is something that has to be defended in 2018. 

But we do. And we must. 

Because right now, despite the works of all of you here and of literally tens of thousands of other people, I believe that science and research and discovery are under siege:

  • From funding cuts.
  • From political interference. 
  • From ideological crusades. 

From a brazen, anti-scientific mindset that seems to revel and glory in its lack of intellectual rigour and demands that conspiracy theories are given the same weighting as facts.

Under siege from a narrowness in attitude which fails to recognise or understand or value basic research. 

Under siege from a government that doesn’t acknowledge expert advice, or scientific evidence.  

When presented with the inarguable reality of rising emissions, when the United Nations gathers the world's best scientists to tell us that we need to take urgent action on climate change.

We have a national government in Australia who says:

 “Don’t worry about that, we’re getting there in a canter”. 

In fact, when Professor Brian Owler, the Sydney neurosurgeon announced that he would be running as the Labor candidate in the Sydney electorate of Bennelong.
 
One of the reasons he gave for his candidacy was his frustration with the way that science and scientists are disrespected by this government.

Now Australian politics has got a range of problems right now – you don’t need to be a quantum physicist to tell you that.

But one of the biggest issues, in my opinion, is that science and evidence and scientists are not sufficiently valued by sections of our politics and a part of our media.

Our whole country pays a price for this:

  • We have declining school results in science and maths, not enough coding taught to our primary school age students.
  • A greater uncertainty for bright post-doctoral students: nine out of ten of our research-only academics are either on limited term contracts or in casual positions - nine out of ten.
  • And we are falling down the global ladder in research and innovation – Israel, Korea, Japan, Germany, the United States all well ahead of us. 

The science race, the discovery race – it's a race for jobs and industries and the prosperity of the future. 

This country cannot rely on being a banking and resources play, we need to invest in our future and science is central to that investment.

I acknowledge the brilliance of our people, the quality of our institutions, the proud tradition hard earned of breakthroughs and discovery - but we are, right now, falling behind the pack and the world is an unforgiving place.

When you fall behind you don't catch up again.

Politics can change this - Labor can change this and we seek to do it.  

Our Shadow Minister for Science, Kim Carr shared a quote with me from the scientist and artist, Robert Rathburn Wilson, who was called to testify before the US Congress in 1961.

He was asked essentially how his work could help the United States compete with the Russians. 

He said: 
 
            Only from a long-range point of view, of developing technology.

But he went on to say this:
 
            Otherwise, it has to do with: are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honour in our country and are patriotic about.

He continued:

In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honour and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.
I think this is true for every academic discipline: from technology and natural sciences to the arts and humanities.

I won't spend a lot of time tonight talking about the current government but that answer, nearly 50 years ago reminds us all of why the current governments new Orwellian ‘National Interest Test’ is so wrong-headed.

Because supporting science and discovery and research and knowledge is always in the national interest.

That’s why when you ask Australians what their taxes ought to fund, they say hospitals, schools – and science.

If you ask Australians who they trust, they say the scientists in our universities and the CSIRO.

If you ask Australians who contributes most to society, they say, teachers, farmers, nurses, doctors, carers - and scientists.

Because Australians understand that if you care about jobs, then, yes, you care about science.

If you care about national defence and national security, then yes, you care about science.

If you care about someone who’s sick, you care about science.

If you care about the food you eat and the water you drink, the air you breathe, then yes, you care about science.

So it is therefore the job of government about science.

There's not a lot of scientists on the benches of the current parliament, I'd certainly be glad to see some more - men and women, ideally on our side.

I'd certainly be glad to see some more, men and women - ideally, on our side
 
But at the same time, there are plenty of people who are sitting in Parliament who didn't study economics at university.
 
And none of those people would ever dream of standing up in the Parliament and say they knew nothing about the economy.
 
Any more than they would arrogantly dismiss the warnings and advice and expertise of economists either.
 
This is what makes the current anti-science attitude prevailing in parts of our political discourse so galling, because if you don't know, you make it your business to learn because you know it is important.
 
Why has it become acceptable to stand up in Parliament and boast that you don't know anything about science and don't care much for the views of scientists?
 
Why is it that cultural of disinterest or even denigration is currently part of the current structure of government?
 
Science is not a minor portfolio, nor should it be treated as one.
 
Science should be at the Cabinet table for the big decisions, in the room.
 
I've already mentioned the risks and consequences of drift: to our economy, to our competitiveness, to the things which contribute to our Australian way of life.
 
And then there is the risk of losing more talented Australians.
 
Walking out the door, maybe right out of the country, because there's no funding certainty, no career path, and above all - no commitment or respect from the Government.
 
So the starting point of my commitment to you this evening is that if I'm elected as a Prime Minister, I will put science back at the centre of government
 
Because science is fundamental

  • Fundamental to the food we farm and eat
  • Fundamental to our cities that we live in
  • Fundamental to the energy that powers our homes and our industries
  • Fundamental to the care our loved ones receive, the cures they need.
  • Fundamental to the way we communicate, even to the very air we breathe.

Science is fundamental to our national security and our national prosperity.
 
It's fundamental to creating the jobs of the future, helping Australians navigate economic disruption.
 
If elected, I want to lead a government that makes it's policy decisions on the basis of the best possible evidence.
 
And science provides us with that evidence.
 
If elected, I want to lead a government with a vision for the long term, the Australia of the  2030s.
 
And science, research, discovery has to be at the heart of any vision for our future.
 
Tonight's speech is not the sum total of Labor's science and reserve policies - have more to say and announce before the next election.
 
And of course, we have already made substantial commitments to university infrastructure - and to more university places.

We’ve strongly backed an Australian Space Agency.

We’ve made it clear, that we choose respected, credible scientific organisations like the CSIRO and AIMS to protect our reef, not small obscure private foundations to dispense funding to well-known established science institutions.

We are preparing for the way robotics and artificial intelligence will transform our economy and the labour market – with a National Centre of A.I. Excellence, an initiative driven by our Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy, Ed Husic.

And we're determined to lead a national effort to encourage more women and girls to study and work in science, technology and research.
 
Because whether it is in science or in politics Australia can only reach its full potential, when we draw on the intellect and talent of our entire Australian population.
 
If I'm elected Prime Minister, I want to set an ambitious national target for Australia, from both our private and public sector collectively.

I want to see us have 3 per cent of our GDP devoted to research and development by 2030.
 
And to achieve that goal, to maximize the potential of our people and our nation, we will need strong links between private industry and publicly-funded research agencies.
 
I am deeply disturbed that private sector research and development has fallen 12 per cent in the past 5 years.
 
I can promise that Labor will go to the next election presenting to Australian people for their judgement, a clear plan to boost collaboration between public and private research and development and to improve commercialisation.
 
But what we also need is a more respectful, more constructive relationship between government and science.
 
Last year at the Academy, I sketched out the way I saw of the science and research chain:

  • Government provides the resources for basic research.
  • Universities, agencies, and institutes supply the labour, the talent, the training and the commitment
  • Their results inspire innovation and private investment, further research and development.
  • Leading to new products, new industries, new jobs, better living standards.

Tonight, I want talk about how we will make this work.
 
Putting science back where it belongs: at the centre of our national decision making.
 
So firstly, if elected, my government will sign and adopt a charter that spells out on behalf of the Australian people, what they can expect from their investment in science and what the science community can expect from government in turn.
 
This is a partnership agreement: built on the truth that this country is better than its current political malaise, that Australians are smarter, that Australians are braver than those who appeal to fear and selfishness and the lowest common denominator would understand.
 
If we are elected as a government, we affirm our fundamental respect for academic freedom.
 
We will not seek to muzzle researchers.
 
Nor will we use our privileged position in the public pulpit in front of the public gaze to mock, to denigrate, to dismiss those researchers whose evidence we find inconvenient.
 
We will uphold, by our words and by our actions, our belief in the integrity and value of what you do.
 
Central to that is respecting the advice of our world class peer review system - and protecting the Australian Research Council process.

If a minister in a Shorten Labor Government decides not to fund a recommended grant, we will explain ourselves to the public, through the Parliament, providing the reasons.
 
We will lift the veil of secrecy - and we will enshrine our commitment in legislation.
 
Openness and transparency must include the advice of science to government.
 
A lot of scientific evidence is put to government departments, and to ministers - and it doesn't seem to go anywhere.
 
The Australian people don't pay to see the best ideas and evidence sit on the shelf.
 
Under Labor, scientific advisers to government will be free from political interference.
 
We will not prejudge the advice that we expect the independent scientific advisers to come up with - nor will we criticise advice or reject it before its publication.
 
We will make our case, we will explain the reasons for our policy decisions, and when we do so we will cite the evidence accurately.
 
Shock jocks and after-dark cable television will not determine the academic or scientific direction of this nation.
 
And alongside our commitment to integrity and transparency, our Charter will help establish meaningful national research priorities.
 
Almost every other country that thinks seriously about science thinks about its contribution to national missions.
 
As in, what science do we need to achieve the outcomes that people want?
 
It's not just a matter of writing a list, it is actually about adopting it in practice as well.
 
It is up to government to lay out a vision for Australia to navigate to the future – science is about how we get there.
 
It's the high-beam lights out in front, pistons under the hood.
 
But it can't play that role without clarity about the big goals; and certainty that the big goals today won't be chucked away tomorrow when they start to get hard.
 
You deserve clarity. Your partners in industry deserve certainty.
 
Labor will give you that clarity – and we will give you that certainty.
 
And so, to help achieve this, a new Labor Government will restore the Prime Minister's Science and Innovation Council.
 
For Labor, that Council is one of the many proud legacies of the Hawke-Keating era.
 
Part of the same period of progress - remarkable progress that gave us:
 

  • The Research and Development tax incentive.
  • The Cooperative Research Centres.
  • And indeed, Questacon.

And for the first time that understanding, the understanding that science needs a comprehensive national strategy.
 
The Science Council’s role will be to identify our national priorities in science and research, and to make sure that we're doing all the right things.
 
Now I did notice today in a rare burst from the Government in anticipation of my address which they didn't that have, the Government has announced they are re-naming the Commonwealth Science Council - progress - it is a body though which hasn’t even met for the last 15 months.
 
For me, restoring the Science and Innovation Council means restoring it to the position of prominence it deserves in government.
 
It means regular meetings, proper access to ministers, including the Prime Minister.
 
It means the capability to bring scientists and public servants together, to develop the advice, the science the nation needs for the immediate and urgent and indeed, the the long-term.
 
Too often in current government practice, standard operating procedure is to hand over buckets of taxpayer cash to a handful of private consulting firms, to outsource the thinking. We’ve outsourced the brain of government to expensive consultants.
 
Instead, we could turn to places like this and people like you, who wouldn't know what to do with all the money that the consultants receive, because you have long traditions of academic excellence. 
 
I want our Commonwealth public servants and our researchers to work together on the advice that a national government needs to navigate the future.
 
In the United States, the equivalent of the Prime Minister's Science Council receives policy advice from joint teams selected from government and science for their expertise.
 
So we propose to enter a Memorandum of Understanding with the Australian Academy of Science leading other learned academies, to establish a National Scientific Expert Panel, working directly to the Prime Minister's Science and Innovation Council.
 
The Expert Panel would develop policy advice on topics which affect the lives of Australians today and as importantly ,in the decades ahead.
 
It will assemble joint teams of researchers in all the disciplines relevant to the topic - and our Commonwealth public officers – experts who work together intensively on each project.
 
Experts will be chosen to meet the needs of the specific project, as well as the bigger need of bridging the science to government gap.
 
We want to include early and mid-career researchers, who contribute their expertise while also gaining first-hand and valuable knowledge of how government works.
 
And we will recruit public servants at junior and senior levels, so they can learn in turn how science works.
 
The topics for the Expert Panel will be commissioned by the Prime Minister's Science Council - or indeed, they can be generated within the scientific community of Australia, through the Academy of Science.
 
Because this is a partnership, it's a two way street.
 
When the reports are returned, they will be made available to the public.
 
We want the Expert Panel, and the Council, to have the influence and prominence to attract outstanding talent.
 
Distinguished leaders, and the cream of rising talent.
 
And we commit to meet our end of the bargain: taking up the reports, taking them seriously, and taking them to the public.
 
Now, having spoke about a charter and our Science Council and Expert Panel, it's about repairing the broken relationship between science and government. 
 
But I recognise that if we are to meet our ambitious national goal for research and development - three per cent of GDP by 2030 - then we need to repair the fragmentation of the system itself. 
 
What I mean by that is the demarcation between the departments and the agencies and the institutions, it makes it very hard to track the $10.3 billion currently invested by taxpayers in science. 
 
And it also means too much of your time is spent petitioning for different pockets and patches of funding, rather than conducting your important work. 
 
So I’m pleased to announce that along with our Charter and our new advisory structure, that we would establish the first, root-and-branch National Inquiry into science, research and innovation for a generation.
 
Now, to be fair, in recent years we have seen a procession of what I think could be described as ad-hoc government reviews - hastily conducted and even more quickly disregarded. 
 
What I'm talking about tonight is different, it's about building for the long term, a framework that draws on international best practice. 
 
Reg Ansett, when he was purchasing the new 727 jets for Ansett in the late 60s said "this is the best technology in the world so it's only just good enough for Ansett."
 
I'd like to borrow from that view about international best practice. If it's best in the world, then it's good enough for us - perhaps. 
 
We want to see a new direction where experts drive decision-making. 
 
We’ll be guided in particular by recent reviews undertaken by the governments in Canada and the United Kingdom. 
 
Now I’m pleased to say that former Chief Scientist and  Vice-Chancellor of ANU, Professor Ian Chubb, will be leading Labor’s Inquiry and a number of other eminent Australians have agreed to join this advisory group. 
 

  • Professor Christobel Saunders, respected oncologist at the University of Western Australia.
  • TV figure, Professor Emma Johnston,  also the Dean of Science at UNSW and a leading authority on marine ecology. 
  • Professor Karen Hussey, the Director of the Centre for Policy Futures at UQ, an expert on climate change. 
  • Professor Andrew Holmes, a Fellow at the Academy of Science, a renowned expert of course on light-emitting polymers. 
  • Mr Phil Clark, a respected member of the JP Morgan Advisory Council. 
  • Professor Glyn Davis, former Vice-Chancellor of University of Melbourne and currently a distinguished Professor at the ANU’s Crawford School. 

 
This is only a beginning – but I acknowledge for these eminent scientists to talk and be part of a Labor initiative when we're still in Opposition, acknowledges the great hunger in the broader scientific community to just get on with it - to restore the system, to make the system work.
 
We will talk to many people - that is the style of a Labor administration. 
 
In conclusion, I’ve spoken tonight about the risk of Australia falling behind in the science race – globally, but domestically too. 
 
I've spoken about how our government needs to better value science, evidence and expertise – to place it at the centre of our decision-making. 
 
I'm conscious tonight that I've spoken very generally about the value of science to an audience who already knew the value of science. 
 
But if we are to change the political discourse, of we are to move science to the centre of the national political agenda, a priority for science, then we have to make the case to the broader public. 
 
But this is a door upon which when we push, will open easily. 
 
The Australian people, I put to you, get the value of science - they get it far more than the political leaders. 
 
I've spoke tonight about some of the process which we want to adopt to anchor our commitment to science solidly. 
 
A new Charter, respecting independence, and transparency. More independence, greater transparency and a new spirit of partnership. 
 
All this driven by a once-in-a-generation inquiry, with the experts in charge. 
 
I suspect that for many of you, science and politics sometimes are like two completely separate worlds – the difference between ballet and cage fighting perhaps - but when you think about it, we share a common set of challenges, don't we?
 
In an age where the sum of human knowledge is searchable by a smartphone, it’s never been easier to be better informed, there’s never been more potential for shared understanding.  
 
Yet what do we see? Deeper division, more vitriol. 
 
And an aggressively anti-scientific, anti-knowledge, anti-education movement masquerading as an attack on the so-called ‘elites’. 
 
Inevitably, there are some who argue the internet itself is to blame. 
 
That the quantity of unchecked, unsourced, unfiltered content makes it impossible for people to judge and evaluate what’s real and what’s not. 
 
A Swiss scientist by the name of Conrad Gessner was one of the first to warn of the ‘confusing and harmful’ effects of information overload -  albeit he did that in German in the 16th Century –  he was arguing against the spread of the printing press and the spread of books. 
 
Over the centuries we’ve heard variations on the same theme about public education, about radio and about television.
 
But no argument for censorship or selective access has ever been a match for the human appetite for new knowledge. 
 
So in this era of ‘Fake News’ and false equivalence - all of us, politicians, parliamentarians and scientists and researchers - are grappling with a more fragmented, more cynical audience. 
 
We are all trying to work out how to communicate and advocate in the noisy, fast-moving world of mass-media and mass-information. 
 
I feel most keenly, the responsibility to win the argument on its merit. I think we all have a responsibility to win our arguments on their merits -  to prove our solutions are the best, not simply claiming that we know best. 
 
We cannot control the madness of the conspiracy theories peddled in the dank corners of the dark web. 
 
But what we can do is take control of the things that are within our reach and are within our control.
 
People can over complicate politics. There are the things that we cannot affect, and there are the things that we can. 
 
In this room, and well beyond it, the Australian scientific community - we have policy-makers, we have scientists, we have educators and leaders in the field of knowledge.
 
What we can do is equip Australians with the tools to separate the propaganda from the data.  
 
In an age of climate deniers, anti-vaxxers, birthers, truthers, trolls - we need to put a premium on the scientific mindset, on the value of evidence.  
 
Not just for the health of our discourse and our democracy, but for the health of our society: with science and research drawing that virtuous circle, fulfilling the generational contract of passing on a better standard of living, a better quality of life to our kids, than what we inherited from our parents.
 
Some people say that Labor is favourite to win the next election, and we should do nothing but sit back and watch the Government implode. 
 
I have a very different conclusion, and that's why I've spoken to you tonight. 
 
A lot of Australians are assessing whether or not our system is broken - whether or not their individual actions can have consequences in the direction of the nation. 
 
It is a great responsibility that we have to lift the eyes of the nation to a bigger and better Australia. 
 
I think this is possible. 
 
We want science and the importance of science to be in the national political agenda. 
 
I need your voices to help shape the public debate, to be heard in the national conversation on the questions that matter.
 
And I can promise you at least this - that when it comes to Labor’s plan for a more prosperous and more secure Australia – I understand that science must be at the centre of this goal. 
 
Thank you very much for listening. 


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